Safe Ride volunteers ask council for funds

A group of Laguna Beach High School students are trying to make sure their schoolmates get home safely.

The teenagers give up their weekends to staff Safe Rides Laguna Beach, a late-night, confidential transportation system for teens who find themselves stranded or are unable to drive because they are under the influence.

"Our focus is to keep teens from drinking and driving," Safe Rides co-President Andrew Palmer told the City Council on April 5. "We do not condone drinking, but we accept the fact that some youths will drink and not be able to make rational choices."

Group representatives attended the meeting to make a pitch for funding.

"We are here to support a current grant request submitted and to bring some awareness of our program," Palmer said. "We are 100% nonprofit, dependent entirely on collaborative funding and resources to operate."

Safe Rides was revived in 2009 with the support of Mission Hospital Laguna Beach and the Laguna Beach Rotary Club.

Boy Scouts of America vet adult supervisors who work alongside three teens on a shift. The hospital donates the room and telephone line for the operation.

All the volunteers take oaths of confidentiality.

Two of the volunteers per shift — a boy and a girl — use their cars to respond to calls. The third teen dispatches the calls for transportation from the base. All members attend a 90-minute training session before volunteering.

In all, Safe Rides has 44 student volunteers and 14 adult volunteers, according to hospital records.

"Safe Rides' most powerful feature is the peer-to-peer approach that makes it unique in attempting to prevent that all too familiar issue of drinking and driving," said Jason Zide, Palmer's co-president. "Our goal is to change the mind-set among our age group to think about consequence and alternative now while in high school and carry this insight with them as they go forward in life."

Safe Rides has been well-received, said junior Vivian Mendoza, who will be group president next year.

"I'd like to repeat, we do not condone drinking among our age group, but can show the reality that it is affecting the youth of our community," Mendoza said. "The support of the city of Laguna Beach is vital not only for funding, but to show support of our teen prevention efforts. Safe Rides works because the message is received on our school campus that drinking and driving can literally kill a friendship."

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